By Jake Sweltz
The 2013-14 NBA season isn’t even a month old yet, and already I have watched roughly three and half games involving the Sacramento Kings. I know, I can’t explain it either.
Besides serving as a harsh reminder that I’m allergic to using my free time productively, all that sweet Sac-town action has also brought me to a shocking and highly important revelation: a lot of the Kings have cool names. Like, by far the coolest collection of names in the NBA.
Of course, it’s debatable whether the guy with the single most interesting moniker plays for Sacto. But for my money, the Kings as a whole have the best roll call in pro basketball, and it’s not really close.
When I first suspected this might be the case, I took it upon myself to launch a full investigative inquiry. What follows is a list of the top squads around the league, strictly based on strength of roster names. Each team gets a starting five, plus a sixth man in parentheses.
Again, the players’ actual talent level played no part in these power rankings; we’re talking strictly phonological/orthographical aesthetics here. Alliteration, consonance/assonance, exotic spellings, all that good stuff, plus all the other intangibles that just make a name tickle your fancy.
Here are the final results:
1.) Sacramento Kings – Boogie Cousins, Travis Outlaw, Greivis Vasquez, Jimmer Fredette, Luc Mbah a Moute (Chuck Hayes)
Notes: Take heart, Kings fans. Your players mostly suck, but their names are awesome. I know that Cousins’ real first name is DeMarcus, but c’mon. Every true hoops fan knows he’s Boogie. Chuck Hayes is a sneaky-great rap name, and “loo-koom-bah-ah-moo-tay” is just a beautiful string of syllables no matter how you slice it. Bonus points to the Kings for also having the coolest stadium name in the NBA (Sleep Train Arena).
2.) San Antonio Spurs – Manu Ginobli, Kawhi Leonard, Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter (Nando de Colo)
Notes: The Spurs have a reputation among casual fans for being a boring team, but their roster names are anything but. “Tiago Splitter” has long flown under the radar as one of the more interesting and terrifying names in the league, and obviously I fully support the coolness credentials of the name “Boris,” especially when it belongs to a French black dude. Kawhi and Ginobli sound as solid as ever, but the key that vaulted the Spurs to number two was their acquisition of Marco Belinelli and his spicy meatball of a moniker.
3.) New York Knickerbockers – Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani, Pablo Prigioni, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert (Metta World Peace)
Notes: The Knicks have always been deep in the “cool name” department. Bernard King, Dave DeBusschere, Latrell Sprewell, Walt Frazier…and those are just the guys who were actually good at basketball. It seems like having a boss name just comes with the territory of playing in New York and having it plastered all over MSG. Then again, that might explain why they decided to pay a completely useless Amar’e Stoudemire (and his epic name) a gajillion dollars every year for the next seventeen decades.
Anyway, this year’s Knicks field a strong squad as always. Melo continues to be their franchise “cool name” cornerstone. “Who Shot J.R.” Smith is a solid second banana, and both Shump and Prigioni feature underrated tags. Even though Metta World Peace has an undoubtedly stylish NBA name, I’ve relegated “The Artest Formerly Known as Ron” to the bench since he kind of just gave it to himself.
4.) Denver Nuggets – Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee, Timofey Mozgov, Randy Foye (J. J. Hickson)
Notes: The symmetry in “JaVale McGee” is a treat to hear out loud, and the double capital letters in both his first and last names make it look great on the page, too. Ty Lawson’s two-letter first name is undeniably cool, and “Timofey Mozgov” sounds like someone Steven Seagal would face off against in a cheesy action movie. Also, this list has revealed my fondness for names of Italian origin, so naturally I had to include “Danilo Gallinari” in Denver’s starting five. Saying that name aloud is a fun little workout for the tongue.
5.) Orlando Magic – Victor Oladipo, Hedo Turkoglu, Maurice Harkless, Aaron Afflalo, Kyle O’Quinn (Tobias Harris)
Notes: The name “Victor Oladipo” is a priceless treasure, and I will fight anyone who tells me otherwise. “Hedo Turkoglu” is a veteran cool name in this league, and I have to give props to anyone named “Tobias.” Kendrick Lamar shouted out Aaron Afflalo on his song “Black Boy Fly,” and it was that cut that first drew my attention to Afflalo’s awe-inspiring name. The alliteration factor is one thing, but saying it aloud evokes the image of a great phoenix rising from the ashes and spreading its wings. It’s just beautiful.
6.) Detroit Pistons – Andre Drummond, Chauncey Billups, Luigi Datome, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rodney Stuckey (Charlie Villanueva)
Notes: It’s a common misconception that hyphenated last names are always fun and/or interesting, but that’s actually rarely the case. As well as Michael Carter-Williams has played so far this year for the 76ers, his name is the equivalent of a late-period Terrance Malick movie: one long drag. But if MCW is Malick, KCP is Tarantino; his name is an adventure, a heinous joyride of electric pulp. My onomastic fetish for Italian names bumps “Luigi Datome” up a few notches, and “Rodney Stuckey” is a delightful throwback. It sounds like an ABA name or something.
7.) Milwaukee Bucks – O.J. Mayo, Zaza Pachulia, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ersan Ilyasova, Carlos Delfino (Ekpe Udoh)
Notes: I’m still not entirely sure how to pronounce Giannis’ last name, but it sure looks glorious on the page. “Zaza” is one of the finer first names in the league, and I like to think of O.J. Mayo’s name as orange juice-flavored mayonnaise. My bizarre affection toward Carlos Delfino’s name probably comes from its nostalgic association in my mind to the Nintendo GameCube’s Super Mario Sunshine, the most underrated gem in the Super Mario canon.
8.) Golden State Warriors – Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kent Bazemore, Festus Ezeli (Andrew Bogut)
Notes: The inclusion of Thompson in GSW’s starting five is solely based on the strength of his first name. I’ve always liked the name “Clay,” and spelling it with a “K” is a small but inspired move. It changes the whole tenor of the name without calling attention to itself as a creative alternate spelling (like in “Jrue Holiday”). Everyone knows Iggy has a cool name, but I also want to give some shine to Kent Bazemore and Festus Ezeli for their underrated monikers. As a side note, I just want to mention that whenever I see Andrew Bogut’s name on the page I always briefly read it as “Andrew Booger.”
9.) Chicago Bulls – Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Tony Snell (Kirk Hinrich)
Notes: Looking at this ranking again, I might have sold the Bulls a little short here. Rose is a very dramatic last name, and I’ve always really appreciated the jaunty do-si-do of mouthing the name “Carlos Boozer.” Deng and Noah’s names go together like peanut butter and jelly. Tony Snell sounds like an oily bookie in a Scorsese flick, and Kirk Hinrich’s name is practically a palindrome. I might have to re-think this whole situation.
10.) Washington Wizards – John Wall, Bradley Beal, Nenê, Marcin Gortat, Trevor Ariza (Otto Porter Jr.)
Notes: Did you know Nenê’s name at birth was Maybyner Rodney Hilário? That’s pretty legendary, but I’m still glad he went minimalist for his NBA tag. The suprise addition of Gortat before the season hasn’t quite yielded the on-court results the Wiz were hoping for, but for the purposes of this list, that pickup couldn’t have been more crucial. The strong two-syllable punch of “John Wall” is a great complement to the alliteration in Beal’s name. And even though we haven’t really seen Otto Porter Jr. on the court in Washington, I’m giving him the sixth man designation because we all need more Ottos in our lives.
11.) Minnesota Timberwolves – Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, J.J. Barea, Shabazz Muhammad, Alexey Shved (Gorgui Dieng)
Notes: The appeal of the names “Ricky Rubio” and “Shabazz Muhammad” is obvious, but what I really want to highlight on this roster is the severe beauty of “Alexey Shved.” Big ups to the T’Wolves for employing a Siberian fur trapper; I’m sure he feels right at home in the frigid Minnesota cold. Saying “J.J. Barea” is equivalent to shooting off a verbal “J.J. Beretta,” and obviously I have to show Kevin the love for “Love”. Solid squad here, for sure.